Edited Version of May 20, 1998
EIIP Virtual Forum Panel Discussion

"Challenges and Opportunities for Elderly Americans in Disaster Planning"

Featured Panelists

Rebecca C. Bundon
Associate State Representative
American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Tennessee State Office

Jan Weaver, PhD, RN
Associate Director of Education Texas Institute for Research and Education on Aging
University of North Texas

Cecil H. Whaley
Director of Natural Hazards
Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA)

The original transcript of the May 20, 1998 online Virtual Forum Panel Discussion is available on the EIIP Virtual Forum (http://www.emforum.org). The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each were deleted but content of discussion, questions, and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers from the presenter to questions by the audience are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning. Related questions and discussion from the Virtual Forum immediately following the presentation are included in the edited transcript.


Avagene Moore: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! Our topic today was chosen because May is "Older Americans Month." We have chosen panelists to discuss how disasters impact the elderly and why we should be concerned since we know that our population is rapidly aging. Our focus today involves the recent tornadoes that hit Nashville and other counties in Tennessee on April 16.


Avagene Moore: It is my pleasure to introduce our speakers today (listed alphabetically), Rebecca C. Bundon, Associate State Representative, American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Tennessee State Office; Jan Weaver, PhD, RN, Associate Director of Education Texas Institute for Research and Education on Aging, University of North Texas; and Cecil H. Whaley, Director of Natural Hazards, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA).

On behalf of the EIIP, we appreciate our speakers taking the time to discuss elderly issues related to disaster management in the Virtual Forum. Our first questions are to Jan Weaver. This is Jan's second time as a speaker in the Virtual Forum. She graciously helped us in a Round Table discussion in February. Jan, please help us set the stage for our discussion by sharing some of the predictions of a rapidly aging population in America.


Jan Weaver: Thanks, Avagene --- There are currently about 35 million people in the US population who are 65 and older (that represents 12.6% of the total population); this number will double by 2030. The number of 85+ individuals is the fastest growing segment of the older population; the 85+ population will triple in size between 1980 and 2030. The "graying of America" represents a population shift since the turn of the century. In 1900, the average life span was 47 years and less than 4% of the population was 65+. People under age 18 made up 40% of the population at the turn of the century. By 2030, there will be proportionately more older than younger people in the population (22% will be 65+ and 21% will be under 18).


Avagene Moore: How should we, as the emergency management community, respond to these statistics?

Jan Weaver: More than 70% of older people view their health as good. About 20% of older people are functionally impaired due to chronic health problems.

Implications of these statistics include: (1)there will be a greater number of people in the population who need special assistance; and (2) there will also be a greater number of people in the population that will volunteer in disaster planning and preparation. In other words, if 20% of all people 65+ are functionally impaired, that means that the other 80% are healthy and active Thus, the older population represents a valuable and growing resource in times of disaster.

Avagene Moore: Thank you, Jan. Those are very interesting statistics and implications for the future. We hope the Q&A session that follows will provide opportunity to address more of the implications of our aging population as we look to the future of this business. To facilitate our session, I will move to questions to Rebecca Bundon, TN AARP. We will come back to Cecil a little later. We are still having trouble getting Cecil into this room.

Avagene Moore: Rebecca, briefly explain the types of issues addressed by the AARP, please. There may be some in our audience not familiar with your organization.

Rebecca Bundon: AARP's national focus for the next few years is on maintaining the solvency of Social Security and Medicare and educating the public on the value of these systems; educating the public on Consumer issues (particularly tele-marketing fraud); addressing issues relating to Managed Care; and encouraging people to save and plan for their financial future. AARP TN will continue to focus on getting funding for Home and Community Based Services for Long Term Care. These issues are in addition to our long-term programs of 55-Alive Safe Driving Classes, Tax Assistance for older individuals, Widowed Persons Services, Health Advocacy and Economic Security information.


Avagene Moore: How does the AARP relate to disaster/emergency management issues that impact older Americans?

Rebecca Bundon: AARP has not officially adopted emergency management as an issue or program; however, we have responded to several disasters in the past 40 years with assistance from local communities and many of our members have offered individual assistance with clean-up efforts.


Avagene Moore: In your opinion, what can the AARP do to make older Americans more aware of the importance of disaster preparedness?

Rebecca Bundon: AARP’s membership nationwide is approximately 30 million and in Tennessee we have approximately 560,000 members. Our national magazine, Modern Maturity, reaches every membership household and could include an article on preparing for disasters. In addition, we have approximately 70 chapters throughout Tennessee with the opportunity to reach members through monthly programs, newsletters, and public events.

Avagene Moore: Thank you, Jan and Rebecca. Cecil is still not here; Amy is trying to help him. Let's take a couple of questions for either Jan or Rebecca while we are waiting for Cecil.


Heidi Kramer: Do you see AARP taking on more of an advocacy role in disaster education? Perhaps becoming a partner in the emergency planning process to ensure the needs of older Americans can be met properly?

Rebecca Bundon: We have not discussed emergency assistance as an issue for the near future. However, we will always be able to encourage our members to respond locally and provide information through our networks. In the near future, AARP TN will have a web page through the Nashville Chamber of Commerce which will also link to the national web page.

Jan Weaver: I just wanted to add that the AARP web site is also an excellent source for additional information (http://www.aarp.org) and could be linked to appropriate disaster preparation sites.

Anita Woltering: We have had response from Nashville area AARP volunteers that they would be willing to participate in a project to assist TEMA in disasters.

Gus Gustafson: A good source of disaster planning is the Red Cross.


Avagene Moore: Rebecca, would you please tell our audience about Anita and Gus who are online with us today?

Rebecca Bundon: Sure. Anita Woltering is our District Coordinator for the greater Nashville area and Bernard Gustafson is our State Coordinator for 55-Alive (safe driving classes).


Isabel McCurdy: How many older Americans actually use the Internet? Access to computers can be a problem.

Jan Weaver: I don't have an exact number or percentage at hand, but the number of older people using Internet is growing by leaps and bounds. I'll be glad to look it up if Isabel would like to email me later.

Rebecca Bundon: Approximately 27 per cent of AARP's 50 plus members have personal computers at home, but I'm not sure what percentage of these use Internet. My guess would be that most who have PCs at home use them for Internet purposes.

David Crews: Estimates of Internet usage is about 27% of Americans regularly use or have access.


Avagene Moore: Thanks, all. Cecil, glad you made it. We have a couple of questions for you. Cecil, the April 16 tornadoes that hit Nashville and several Tennessee counties, including my home county of Lawrence, were quite devastating and impacted many citizens, homes and businesses. I know this is a very busy time for you and TEMA. We trust the recovery is going well for the city and all the counties.

Since we are focusing on the elderly, did your agency encounter an unduly large number of problems that related to special population needs of the elderly in the community?

Cecil Whaley: Hello, to all from TEMA. TEMA did experience a real problem with helping the elderly due to the complicated paperwork which is with the assistance.


Avagene Moore: Can you give us other examples of the types of problems? Were resources available and plans in place for them?

Cecil Whaley: I think that TEMA has relied on the tele-registration system too much instead of the old personal one-to-one system. Tele-registration is a great money saver for FEMA but it can never replace the outreach of actual workers.

Our good friend, Lacy Suiter, has saved millions of dollars for the tax-payers by installing the tele-registration system but I'm afraid that it has come at the expense of the elderly.

Avagene knows that we are always looking for new ideas and concepts but we must never do so at the expense of those who have lost transportation or communications due to aging problems.


Avagene Moore: Cecil, what about the elderly being asked to leave their homes during power outages? Was that a problem in Nashville?

Cecil Whaley: We were faced with hundreds of elderly who had no electricity or phone service for more than three weeks after the tornado. What we did was contact the Meals-on-Wheels program (which was a new contact for us) and get all their lists and then contacted all the other social programs which had eye-to-eye contact at home with the elderly. We then worked closely with the FEMA Community Relations group to send individual people directly to those homes and to repeat the visit until real contact was made and to see if they could talk them through the confusing paperwork to get benefits.


Avagene Moore: Have you had time to analyze whether or not more planning, training and public education related to elderly population needs are needed as result of this disaster experience?

Cecil Whaley: Yes, to a degree, we now know that we must expand the groups which we have monthly meetings with in our TNVOAD group which we have been so proud of. We know that we must reach out to AARP and Catholic Charities and other groups which do not ordinarily work with us on disaster recovery projects so that we can serve the elderly needs.

Avagene Moore: Thank you, Cecil. We have time for a couple of quick questions for Cecil.


Heidi Kramer: Did you encounter problems meeting the needs of older people in shelters; how did you handle the frail elderly?

Cecil Whaley: Unfortunately, not enough people use the shelters which we open up, only 3 to 5 percent of the people who should come to the shelters actually appear.


Chip Hines: I would have thought that tele-registration helped an older population in that it gives them more opportunities to register and avoids going out and waiting in lines. You didn’t find this to be true?

Cecil Whaley: In some cases, yes, but in others it actually worked in reverse, some are reluctant to speak with those they do not know on the phone.


Rebecca Bundon: While I agree that the Meals on Wheels programs are some of the best contacts we have with older individuals, Stacy Martinez (a staffer with AARP and my technical assistant) wondered if we could connect with census information to reach older individuals who are not linked with current services.

Cecil Whaley: The census system is fine and we have it on computer but it is about ten years old now and with the population of elderly that is way too long, we are able to identify large tracks that need help.


Jan Weaver: Were nursing homes and assisted-living facilities affected by the tornadoes?

Cecil Whaley: Yes, we had to evacuate one entire nursing home facility in East Nashville, have good plans for this action and it went very well, we were able to put them into another facility very quickly.

Final Question:

Anita Woltering: Rebecca and Cecil. Should AARP be represented on TVOAD?

Rebecca Bundon: I'm not familiar with that acronym, but I think we're interested in more dialogue on how to reach older Tennesseans to make sure they're prepared next time and hooked in to the right systems for help.

Cecil Whaley: VOAD, stands for Volunteers Active in Disasters. Absolutely, AARP could be one of the most effective members; I have never really considered it before this disaster.

Rebecca Bundon: Thanks, Cecil. Let us know how to be involved. 259-2277.

Avagene Moore: Rebecca, Jan and Cecil --- thank you for being here and sharing your perspective on the topic today. And thanks to you, the audience. We hope the session was informative for everyone. If you have a question that was not addressed, please join us in the Virtual Forum Room where we will spend a few minutes informally with our speakers. Please move to the Virtual Forum now. Thank you!

Audience Questions

Avagene Moore: Cecil, you did a good job for us. Thanks! Also, Rebecca and Jan. We in no way exhausted this topic.

Heidi Kramer: Thanks to all! Cecil, along with your older population, did you encounter problems handling the needs of people with disabilities?

Rebecca Bundon: Cecil, not sure you got my comment. Let us know how to hook in with the TN VOAD group. You can reach us at 259-2277. If Gus is willing, he'd be a great representative for us.

Cecil Whaley: That is a constant problem which we always deal with. My brother, who is handicapped, serves on the Planning Committee in Jacksonville, FL, working on the needs for handicapped in sheltering. I intend to have him speak at the next TNVOAD meeting and to work with Tennessee groups as he is moving back to Nashville next month.

Isabel McCurdy: What is TN VOAD?

Cecil Whaley: It is a group of Church and Social Action groups which volunteer to assist TEMA in times of disasters (RED Cross, TN Baptists, Salvation Army, Seventh Day Adventists).

Isabel McCurdy: Were there any deaths that resulted from the movement of the elderly from that nursing home?

Cecil Whaley: No, there were no deaths and there were no injuries, not even one complaint, which is better than at my house.

Avagene Moore: Cecil, any further comments from your perspective?

Cecil Whaley: No, I must go to Bell South to discuss a state communications exercise. Thank you for letting me be a part of an exciting, learning experience.

Avagene Moore: Many thanks to you and everyone! I suggest we adjourn for the day. Transcript of this session will be available by the first of next week. Reminder: 8:00 PM Eastern tomorrow night, good discussion in the Round Table. Topic tomorrow night is emergency medical / health care issues and emergency management.